Michigan Association of School Administrators

Service | Leadership | Collaboration | Excellence

Member Blogs

Blog Authors

David Britton, Godfrey-Lee
Scot Graden, Saline
Michele Lemire, Escanaba
Vickie Markavitch, Oakland
Steve Matthews, Novi
Mike Paskewicz, Northview
Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift, Ann Arbor

MASA members: If you have a blog that you would like us to link please contact pmarrah@gomasa.org

Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities

Written by Vickie Markavitch on Oct 24, 2016

“I was fortunate to experience first-hand how we, as educators, parents, and community members, could function as ‘US’  — instead of  ‘US and THEM’~ Dr. Arina Bokas

Oakland Schools: Arina, you are a local educator-innovator with a Clarkston-based magazine and cable TV show that promote learning – and now you’ve written a BOOK about your experiences?

Dr. Bokas: Yes! My passion for education and what I’ve learned through community engagement has culminated in my new book. It’s intended primarily for educational leaders, policy makers and teachers, but really, it’s for anyone interested in the future of education.

Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities [December release] looks into various ways of creating a partnership culture at district, school, and classroom levels. It provides practical guidance, strategies, and tips as well as some conceptual understanding of what can be done to create and support this culture at various levels of educational leadership.

Oakland Schools: You are looking at education holistically – as part of an entire community’s focus and responsibility?

Dr. Bokas: Community is key. A learning environment has traditionally been viewed as something that educators created and sustained inside their schools. Building Powerful Learning Environments expands this understanding to embrace families, communities, other learning institutions, and businesses not as helpers, but as co-builders of a powerful learning environment. It demonstrates that schools have to take the first step in this direction by becoming the center of a new educational culture – a culture of partnerships.

CO-BUILDING happens when schools, families, and communities join their efforts in both decision-making and sharing responsibility for education of children. Most teachers, I believe, know that how well students develop as learners within a classroom learning environment depends on synergies with other learning environments a child enters.

If a learning environment at school is similar to one at home, there are no contradicting messages to interfere with the process of learning. On the other hand, if at school a teacher strives for an environment that promotes curiosity and thinking, but at home, a child’s thinking is not valued and the focus is placed on adult authority, it might create confusion for a learner in both learning environments.

A school and a family need to work in tandem.

In general, co-building is a process that consists of many steps and involves a multitude of interactions among parents, teachers, parent leaders, school and district administrators, other learning organizations, and businesses and agencies.

Oakland Schools: I read a quote that describes Building Powerful Learning Environments as a blueprint for creating a “different canvas for learning”.  What is your concept of a best-practice learning environment?

Dr. Bokas: I have to say that a “different canvas” is powered by a diversity of perspectives, expertise, experiences, and resources.  I see learners simultaneously engaging with multiple learning providers in various locations.

  • In a classroom, families and educators view each other as colleagues in education and work together to create the best possible learning environment for children. They actively connect, feed from each other’s ideas, give and receive learning feedback, and share resources, including parental expertise, to enhance instruction.
  • Educators and parents decide which system to use to evaluate the child’s learning. Students have opportunities to learn and apply their learning outside of a school’s location.
  • Businesses and organizations act as learning providers for short-term project-based experiences, which allows students to connect their knowledge to its applications.
  • Global learning experiences are an important part of education. Teachers utilize technology and learning platforms; students enter collaborations with students from all over the world.

A different canvas for learning is a culture of partnerships.

No one person or entity sees all of the needs, knows all of the questions to ask, or has all of the answers. When learners simultaneously tap into multiple resources and engage with multiple providers, opportunities and contexts for learning are endless!

Many people contributed their support to Building Powerful Learning Environments: From Schools to Communities. Clarkston Superintendent Rod Rock and Principal Glenn Gualtieri; talented Oakland County educators; parents and community members; truly, there were many co-book builders! They all both inspired and reinforced my message —

Building partnerships with families, community organizations and agencies, and learning establishments will enable schools to create synergies, develop new ways to enhance professional and cultural capital of all stakeholders, and nurture a powerful learning ecosystem.

Dr. Arina Bokas with Global Educator Dr. Yong Zhao at Future of Learning TV



Dr. Arina Bokas is the editor and vice president of Kids’ Standard magazine, host of the Future of Learning public TV show produced by Independence Television in Clarkston, Michigan, an officer of the Clarkston Community Schools PTA, and an English professor at Mott Community College. Dr. Bokas may be found on Twitter at @ArinaBokas or through her Culture of Partnerships website.


Blog Editor Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


 Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000





Michigan and 33 Other States Still Funding K-12 at Pre-Recession Levels

Written by David Britton on Oct 21, 2016
Nearly a decade after the recession, school funding in many states hasn't recovered
Nearly 10 years after the recession, school funding is still way down in some states. That's according to a new report released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.Michigan's State Board of Education and Superintendent have called for the state to be in the "Top 10 in 10," but since one's wallet usually reflects your priorities it's clear that our state legislature and governor have different goals in mind for public education.

Funding for public K-12 education in Michigan is down 11.2% in comparison to 2008 when adjusted for inflation (i.e., the cost of running a school). Of course we know that our state legislature sorely underfunds public schools and has done so rather intentionally over the past nine years. Class sizes are up, schools have been closed, classrooms go without needed textbooks, technology and replacements for outdated equipment (especially in critical STEM courses). Teachers go without professional training and coaching to keep up with the maddening changes in state-mandated curriculum and testing.

Michigan commissioned a study on our public school funding and the results released three months late this past June were telling, if not horrific, regarding how underfunded our schools are when it comes to providing every child an adequate and equitable education. Although the study came up short because it failed to include recommendations for ensuring special education students are properly funded, and did not even address other structures that impact student learning, such as size of the district/school, rural versus suburban and city schools, or varying costs in hiring highly qualified teachers in different parts of the state, it did come out and recommend an immediate increase in the minimum foundation allowance to $8,667 just to get to the low threshold of "adequacy." For most Michigan schools, that's an increase of $1,100 per student.

But that's just the beginning if Michigan is serious about ensuring EVERY child has an equitable opportunity to complete the 13-year public education race despite the many setbacks that force a substantial number of students to begin that race from way behind the starting line. Students in poverty, many of which are attending schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, or those children with other state-defined, at-risk attributes REQUIRE a minimum of 30% more in per-pupil funding from the state just to run a fair race and have a chance to compete with their more affluent peers. Other students who may come from non-English-speaking homes and have limited-English reading, writing and/or speaking skills require at least 40% additional funding according to the study.  Read Report: At-risk students need more Michigan funding.

As you can see from the chart below, the impact of declining per-pupil foundation funding by the state, which took over responsibility all school operating funding more than twenty years ago, has been devastating for our district while at the same time we've wrestled with an increasingly low-income (95% FRL and 38% Federal Poverty) and English learner (43%) student population. The value of $1 in state aid provided in 1995 is now capable of only purchasing 63 cents worth of services, supplies, materials, equipment, utilities, etc. owing to the rate of inflation.

Consequently, just to keep up with inflation, our district would require a foundation allowance of $8,500 per pupil, which is just shy ($167) of the "adequacy" recommendation by the school finance study released in June. But as you can see from the chart below, we're not even close to "adequate" and certainly "equity" as proposed by the study's recommendations is not even addressed by our state. This has resulted in larger class sizes despite a high at-risk population, less resources and availability of higher level courses, less time away from the classroom for teachers to engage in professional learning and collaborative work, textbooks and other support materials that are eight or more years old, difficulties maintaining basic instructional and support facilities, less opportunities for enrichment as well as addressing learning gaps across our curriculum, and less competitive salaries to ensure we attract and maintain a high quality faculty and administration.

We hear a lot of high and mighty talk about how we in Michigan are going to reform our public education system once and for all, becoming that top ten state within ten years. But for the most part it is bark without bite because adequacy and equity in school finance is not at the top of the priority list. The latest effort is Governor Rick Snyder's Michigan 21st Century Education Commission which no doubt will "consider" school funding in the mix, but like most reports over the Governor's tenure to-date, will bury those recommendations under a mountain of higher curriculum expectations, more intrusive (and abusive) narrow testing and faulty use of that data, more time in classroom seats (proven only to improve test prep and not actual learning), higher quality teacher prep programs (which will be a waste of time unless we are able to attract more teachers into the profession), etc. In other words, more "sticks" than "carrots" despite the growing evidence that Michigan intentionally starves our public education system.

The importance of today for tomorrow

Written by Steve Matthews on Oct 19, 2016
If you are looking for a book to read may I suggest this one:
Technically, book critics and reviewers call it a "middle-grade novel," meant, I suppose for students in grades 4 - 8. Perhaps, but for me, it had a great message.

From 1983-1986, I spent three years as a social worker for the Texas Department of Human Services trying to put families back together. I worked with children who had been abandoned, ignored, beaten, shuffled from home to home, and forgotten. I worked with children whose parents either couldn't or wouldn't feed them, who burned them with cigarettes, who left them alone all night, or who were willing to use them to get drugs. The children who came to me did not come because life was good. They came because life was less than it should be for a three- or five- or eleven- or thirteen-year-old.

I was supposed to help these children. Yet, in most cases, these children helped me.


They taught me the power of knowing that you belong, that you matter, that someone cares for you.

These children - ignored, hurt, forgotten - wanted to belong.

As a social worker, I saw how easily parents and relatives would give up on a child. I saw how adults would take care of themselves instead of taking the time to listen, to care, to help a child - their child.

Yet, most of these children still believed that there were adults who would care for them, who would help them, who would love them.

In our public schools, it is critically important that we create classrooms that care for kids. In our public schools, it is critically important that teachers and principals and bus drivers and cooks understand that the students who come to school every day need to find in our classrooms, on our buses, in our lunch rooms, on the playground people who care for them.

I understand that we have schools so that our children will learn the lessons that will prepare them for the rest of their lives. But our children are living lives right now. To ensure that they will be ready for the rest of their lives the children who come to our schools every day need to know that there are people who care about them, who will create positive spaces for them, who will make them feel like they belong right now.

Our children will never be ready for tomorrow unless they have adults who care for them today.

Another Day, Another Misguided Discussion in Lansing About High-Stakes Testing

Written by David Britton on Oct 13, 2016
State Superintendent outlines proposed changes to how Michigan students are tested | MLive.com

Continuously changing narrow, high-stakes testing of content that's mainly forgotten three months later makes absolutely no sense, and is simply pandering to those who advocate for education reforms that are harmful to student learning and focused on the industrial model of schooling. 

What we need are localized assessments focused on 21st century learning skills (6Cs, etc) that are designed around showing what one has learned (not knowing short-term memorized content) by doing, exhibiting, making, and creating. 

Tell your state senator and representative that enough is enough. Lansing needs to back off. They've done more than enough damage already.

Learn more about how and why schools should redesign learning and assessment through the documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed. If you haven't yet, bring a viewing to your district and/or community. It provides a great discussion starter for how to break the bonds from our industrial-age school model and provide learning spaces and activities that benefit our 21st century students.

School is only a few days away… We want your feedback!

Written by Scot Graden on Aug 31, 2016

Welcome back to another exciting year in Saline Area Schools!

Whether you’re a parent whose child is entering our schools for the first time or the veteran parents of a soon-to-graduate senior, I want you to be involved and help make this year our best one yet.

But I also know how busy you are — and, as the school year continues, there are going to be even more demands on your time and attention.

That’s why we offer Let’s Talk!  It is a great way for you to ask questions or submit comments about the issues that matter most to you, whenever it’s convenient — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Many of you used the system last fall during our successful bond campaign.

I hope to repeat that successful community engagement this year.

Questions about a district program? Have something to share about your child’s school?  Want to weigh in on our district budget or school safety? Whatever’s on your mind, we want to hear it!

Simply open the Let’s Talk! tab at http://www.salineschools.org, or click here to start a conversation. You may remain anonymous, but if you leave your contact information you’re guaranteed a personal response.

We want to help all of our students find success and realize their potential. And we can do it by working together — one conversation at a time!